If for you, like me, (nearly) a whole summer of warm weather and sunshine means an excuse to be in the kitchen experimenting with ice cream flavours, then no doubt you’ll end up with lots of leftover egg whites. Don’t throw them away – freeze in small plastic bags, labelled with the number of whites, then simply defrost as needed for your recipes (or keep in the fridge for up to a week). I remember once reading Nigella Lawson saying she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so she doesn't have the stress of figuring out what to do with all the leftover whites. Nigella, this one is for you.Read More
I think I would consider lemon tart to be the most dangerous dessert. Not dangerous in the way of Japanese fugu or anything, I’m not claiming that it will kill you if incorrectly prepared, but dangerous in that capable-of-completely-abolishing-all-willpower sort of way. There’s something about the irresistible mix of buttery pastry, silky custard, and the snap of lemon that seems to prevent you reaching that overload threshold you get with other desserts. Because it has a welcome acidity from lemons, you can just keep on going without feeling yourself slip into a sugar coma. Until you do, of course, slip into a sugar coma, one that has crept up on you like some kind of saccharine ninja and left you defenceless.Read More
As food geeks, we all have a few ‘fun facts’ up our sleeve, right? Random snippets of foodie info that we use to pepper the conversations at parties or liven up a boring first date? Don’t tell me you’ve never reached for a bit of asparagus-related trivia to brighten up a dull moment, or quietened a room by pointing out that red Skittles are coloured with smushed-up insects. If you haven’t, I’m certainly never going to a party with you.Read More
The season for pumpkins is over!, I hear you cry. Well, not if you're me, and you've spent the last two months steadily stockpiling massive gourds so that you now have a small collection on your balcony, enjoying a radiant sea view. In my head I refer to them as The Gourd Gang, and they're a mighty attractive bunch, some with delicate slate-blue skins, some knobbly and dark green. I'm pretty sure I've burned enough extra calories from lugging them around town in my bike panniers (at one point I was carrying three, which is basically like having a pregnant bike) to justify an extra large slice of this recipe, which remains my favourite ever sweet dish with pumpkin. (Contenders for the savoury title are a lasagne, a Thai coconut noodle soup, and Italian pumpkin ravioli with sage brown butter. In case you were wondering, which I'm sure you were).Read More
They are based on a Danish sweet treat, havregrynskugler, which essentially means ‘oat balls’. I first tried these at one of my favourite hyggelig cafes in Aarhus, a delightful little place attached to a deli and farm shop. For that reason, I assumed the oaty things they had out on the counter would be some kind of worthy, uber-healthy raw cake or similar, and finding myself in need of a snack with my cup of tea one day, I decided to try one. I was surprised by how utterly delicious it was, with the nutty, slightly sweet taste of oats that took me straight back to making flapjacks and oat biscuits as a child. I remember once trying to eat raw oats out of the jar, assuming that they were what made the flapjacks taste so good, so by that logic they should be delicious on their own. I was wrong. I am not a horse. My oats need to be doused in butter and sugar.Read More
Vilana cake is an unusual sweet from the beautiful tiny volcanic island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, and is named after the ‘vilana’, or tin pot, in which it is traditionally baked. Thanks to its sub-tropical climate, La Gomera boasts fabulous produce – avocadoes, fresh fish, bananas, tomatoes – but the region is best known for its potato recipes, making the most of the island’s flavoursome root vegetables which arrived there shortly after the conquest of America. This simple, hearty cake incorporates mashed potato into its moist, buttery crumb, along with other key ingredients from the island: almonds, spice and dried fruit.Read More
One of the biggest disappointments a gastronome can experience is to order their favourite dessert from a restaurant menu, only to find it presented to them in unrecognisable compartmentalised format. Instead of ‘lemon tart’, a Cubist explosion of prismatic pastry shards, perfectly piped mounds of glossy lemon curd, and a smattering of smug mint leaves for garnish. Instead of the glorious marriage of hot, sweet-tart fruit syrup and a toothsome crunchy topping, your ‘crumble’ will instead manifest as something that resembles the dreams of a Scandinavian minimalist with obsessive compulsive disorder; a piece of poached fruit here, a slick of compote there, and a stingy scattering of crunchy granola that refuses to interact on any sensible basis with the other two elements and entirely misses the point of a crumble. Or, heaven forbid, a cheesecake that anarchically ignores the latter part of its title and instead of being a sliceable paean to dairy and biscuit is a Kilner jar full of cream with a shot of fruit juice and a cookie on the side, more like the individual components of a child’s packed lunch than anything suitable for restaurant consumption.Read More
My love of apricots will be no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly. Nor am I strikingly original in this deep and all-too-seasonal passion. What is there not to adore about a perfectly formed apricot? There is something so fragile about their soft, downy curves, yet their bold and robust colouring hints at the flavoursome promise within. I love the blushing, deep red, slightly freckled specimens best, as the russet hues whisper of long hours in the sun to ripen the sweet flesh inside. However, by and large, fresh apricots in the UK are a disappointment, being either woolly and bland or overripe and unpleasantly mushy. Only by cooking can you bring out the marigold, sweet-tart joys of the apricot. Here are ten of my favourite (sweet and savoury) recipes to make the most of these gorgeous fruits, while they are cheap and plentiful in summer; most are mine, some are from other inspiring cooks.Read More
‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,’ wrote Henry James. If you’re planning on heading to the Royal York Hotel for afternoon tea, however, I’d allow a little longer than James’s allotted hour – you’ll certainly want to linger.
Served in a high-ceilinged, opulent lounge (the ‘Garden Room’) decorated in cream and slate grey, with quirky equestrian-themed touches, the Royal York afternoon tea would certainly have impressed Henry James, and will delight even the most sophisticated fans of this decadent meal. The hotel clearly understand that there should be something ceremonial about afternoon tea – although the meal was invented as an ingenious and practical way of filling the hunger gap between lunch and dinner, it has grown into a symbol of luxury and refined British cuisine. This couldn’t be clearer at the Royal York, where your tea arrives in stages on fine china and a towering platter and you are made to feel like minor royalty. The lounge is light and airy and, despite the views of the garden being somewhat marred by the car park, is a fabulous place to while away an hour or two while revelling in the understated luxury of the hotel, set in the heart of beautiful York. The staff are friendly and attentive, and each stage of the meal is an absolute treat.Read More
‘And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.’ So reads the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the bitter knowledge imparted by the forbidden apple bringing forth shame and humiliation and leading to the expert crafting of loincloths out of a piece of foliage so perfectly suited to cloaking the human genitalia that you’d almost think God had all this planned out. Whether the forbidden fruit of Genesis was, as many have speculated, actually a fig rather than an apple (other contenders are pomegranates and quinces), there’s no denying that fig leaves are associated with a certain frisson of eroticism and desire in western culture. Depictions of Adam and Eve from the medieval period onwards feature modesty-preserving fig leaves, strategically and titillatingly placed, and the Renaissance period witnessed the fabulous ‘fig leaf campaign’, during which lascivious artworks were hurriedly covered with branches from nearby bushes to avoid offending delicate religious sensibilities. And, to use a slightly less highbrow cultural example, there is the successful internet underwear brand, Figleaves.com.
But the fig leaf has had its time in the limelight. I want to talk about blackcurrant leaves.Read More
Sometimes, you need a dessert that is pure chocolate indulgence. Not a scattering of chocolate chips here and there, or a bit of cocoa added to a sponge mixture, but a proper mouthful of thick, rich, silky molten chocolate. The kind that envelops your tongue like dark cashmere, and leaves you wanting to bathe in a pool of rippling cocoa. This is that dessert. A layer of smooth, fudgy dark chocolate ganache is baked until just set inside a crunchy, buttery pastry shell, flecked with hazelnuts for that praline hit. It's so thick and smooth you need a hot knife to cut through it, and it's scattered with freeze-dried raspberry pieces for delicious bursts of fruity sharpness in every mouthful. On the side, a glorious ice cream rippled with vanilla, crushed meringues and a tangy raspberry coulis, vibrant with the fragrant heat of pink peppercorns. It's perfect against the silky, complex ganache and the crisp pastry. Head to my post on Great British Chefs for the recipe!
When my boyfriend and I arrived at our hotel in Crete this summer after a chilly 3.15am start, a long flight and a fraught attempt to navigate the Greek roads in an unfamiliar hire car, I was elated. My body hummed with intense joy. It wasn’t the sight of the empty blue pool, its rippled surface mirroring the radiant sun, nor the distant glow of the Mediterranean on the horizon. It wasn’t the sight of our pastel painted balcony, tangled with grape vines laden with translucent, plum-coloured fruit. It wasn’t even the knowledge that the bar would still serve us a huge Greek salad and a chunk of crusty bread despite it being far past lunchtime. No: my eyes swept breathlessly over the pool, the landscaped gardens and the cloudless sky and instead landed on the quince tree.Read More
I remember when I first acquired my kitchen blowtorch. It was during my early days of learning to cook, when I attempted to emulate the dishes of Masterchef and used silly silver rings for ‘plating up’ (yes, in those days I actually did a thing called ‘plating up’), daubing everything with smears and garnishes and spending a fortune on fancy cuts of meat and fish. Essential kitchen kit in those days comprised dariole moulds (for making the classic chocolate fondant, of course), a mandolin, an oyster knife, square plates (vital for that restaurant look) and a piping bag. And, of course, the kitchen blowtorch. Programmes like Masterchef are designed to make you believe that you simply cannot cook without one: how would you get that glistering crust atop a chalky round of goat’s cheese, or achieve the perfect crack on a crème brulée?Read More
Occasionally, in my youth, I would go out in the evening, to some throbbing venue slick with other people’s sweat where the music was too loud and the lighting just the right level of dimness to enable middle-aged men to sidle up to you and ‘helpfully’ put their hands on your waist as they squeezed past. I’d dress up. There would be bright colours, sparkly jewellery and painful shoes. Sometimes I would even wear false eyelashes. Once they came unstuck mid-evening, and I spent a couple of hours chatting to people, glass of wine in hand, enveloped in the aura of my own sophistication and blissfully unaware that my spidery plastic eyelashes were hanging away from my eyelids by a strip of congealed glue. I’d drink a bit too much and end up crying on boys I fancied, then try to rectify the situation by offering the excuse that I was ‘on medication’. My girlfriends and I would go to the toilet together and gossip. I’d go to get a drink at the bar of Wetherspoons, step away to go back to my table and find my feet removed from my shoes, which were still stuck fast to the floor. There would be silly photos on Facebook the next morning, always featuring the same core components: a bottle of wine, my wide-eyed leering face next to those of my friends, too much cleavage from all of the girls involved, a wisp of fake tan here and there, a stray false eyelash or two, and probably some poor token male who had been hijacked for the purpose.Read More
I have these strange, unshakeable ideas about certain fruits being expensive. I’ll often utter phrases like ‘Oh, I love blueberries but I hardly ever buy them because they’re so expensive’, or ‘I really want a papaya but I don’t think I can justify the money’. And they are pricey, compared to a lot of fruits. It would be very economical to have a penchant for apples, pears or bananas; trying to afford a mango, papaya or raspberry habit, less so. Yet I sometimes have to stop and take a step back from this mentality, and realize that, although proportionately more expensive than other fruits, I can still afford to spend £2 on a punnet of blueberries. These things are not, objectively, ‘expensive’. While I’m technically aware of this, I still find myself avoiding certain fruit purchases in the supermarket out of these strange ideas of affordability.Read More
Some of my favourite recipes are those that involve a slightly risky frisson of surprise. Those ‘no-peeking’ dishes where, perhaps worryingly, you won’t know how they’ve turned out until the cooking is over and the moment of revelation is at hand. A stew that’s been simmering and melding beautifully under a lid in the oven for a few hours, for example. What went in as lumps of meat and veg suspended in a watery broth emerges – hopefully – as a dark, glossy and unctuous mass of slippery vegetables and tender chunks of meat, deeply rich and savoury.Read More
A couple of weeks ago, something magical occurred in my kitchen. Craving a warm, comforting pudding and wondering what to do with a quince hanging around in my fridge, I poached the fruit in a spiced sugar syrup and caramelised it, along with juicy chunks of ripe pear, in a hot pan. I added a little quince jelly, which melted into an amber syrup as it hit the surface of the pan, and bubbled in a splash of honeyed dessert wine. I tumbled this sticky, golden mixture into a baking tin, luscious juices clinging to the fruit, and topped it with a buttery crumble mixture flecked with crunchy almonds. Thirty-five minutes later, the best crumble I've ever had emerged from the oven.Read More
This is the ultimate taste of summer for me, because it involves my ultimate summer fruit: the apricot. Between about June and October, it would be a very rare thing to open my fridge and not spy a brown paper bag full of these golden, silky, fragrant orbs. I buy them in bulk every time I visit a market or a supermarket, spending a few moments picking out the best: those that feel heaviest in the hand, those that are warm and soft as a baby’s cheek rather than hard and cold, those that sport a mottled, sienna-coloured blush on one side. Of course, this is no real indication of what they will be like to eat raw – I’ve never had a very good raw apricot in my life, and have given up trying. Instead, apricots meet one of two ends in my kitchen: that of being baked slowly with honey, orange blossom water and cinnamon in the oven, or poached in a pan with orange juice, vanilla and star anise. Oh, and sometimes I make jam, throwing in cardamom seeds and a vanilla pod. It’s divine.Read More
One of my life’s great woes is that I am constantly hungry. You could see this as a blessing; my food writing career requires that I be always ready to sample whatever tasty treat should come my way. However, more often than not it’s something of a curse, given the fact that I am completely unable to function when hungry. I genuinely cannot comprehend those people – you know the type; you may even be one of them – who can breeze empty-stomached through a whole day and then remark, astonished, by evening that they haven’t eaten anything all day and gosh, how silly, they probably should have something then really shouldn’t they, but they’re just not that hungry!!!!
Sorry, but I hate these people.Read More
While I usually deplore the ‘food as fuel’ mentality, the mindless consumption of edible goods simply as an aid to increased productivity regardless of their nature, I have to say that I do sometimes treat the poor banana with such an attitude. Wolfed down between coming home from work and heading to the gym, practically inhaled as a pre-swim morning snack or gulped greedily every time I feel that familiar blood sugar slump, I rarely pay much attention to this humble fruit, carelessly exploiting it for its filling, sugar-rich, workout-boosting nature and ease of eating.Read More